The actions of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer led to the arrest of three Van Nuys men suspected in a string of catalytic-converter thefts in Santa Barbara, according to the Santa Barbara Police Department.
The officer, whose name was not released, lives on Santa Barbara’s Northside, and at about 2:45 a.m. Saturday observed a suspicious gold Toyota Corolla, occupied by three men, on the street near his home, said Sgt. Riley Harwood.
“Concerned that the occupants of the vehicle might be involved in crime, the CHP officer called the Highway Patrol to send officers to check the area,” Harwood said.
Two CHP officers subsequently found the suspect vehicle in the 400 block of Otono Drive, Harwood said, at which point the vehicle sped away, driving on the wrong side of the street and committing several other traffic violations.
The vehicle was stopped in the 200 block of Lee Drive, where Angel Aguilera, 29, Herbert Hernandez, 30, and Jesus Alberto Ortiz, 20, all of Van Nuys, were taken into custody, Harwood said.
The officers discovered that Hernandez was an unlicensed driver, Harwood said, and saw that the trio appeared to be in possession of a variety of tools that could be used in the commission of burglaries, including two-way radios.
Santa Barbara police were called in to assist with the investigation, and a short time later found a Toyota T-100 pickup on the 4000 block of Otono Driver with its catalytic converter partially removed, and a pipe cutter still attached, Harwood said.
“The route the suspects traveled before being stopped was searched, and several items that they apparently discarded as they drove away were recovered, including another catalytic converter, several bindles of methamphetamine, and tools,” Harwood said.
Detective Rashun Drayton interviewed the suspects at police headquarters, and Ortiz and Aguilera confessed that the trio went to Santa Barbara from Van Nuys for the purpose of stealing catalytic converters and selling them for profit, Harwood said.
Several hours later, officers responded to the 400 block of Via Rosa on a report of a stolen catalytic converter, he added. The victim said the catalytic converter had been stolen from her Toyota 4-Runner earlier that morning.
She was facing a $1,400 bill to replace the emission-control device, Harwood said, until investigators determined that one of the catalytic converters recovered earlier in the day was hers.
Aguilera, Hernandez and Ortiz were booked at Santa Barbara County Jail on felony charges of conspiracy to commit grand theft, grand theft and attempted grand theft, and misdemeanor charges of possession of burglary tools and vehicle tampering. Bail for each was set at $20,000.